Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Random War Narrative

I have a single clear memory of my Uncle Sandy – a childhood flash-memory that I can call to mind: I am a little girl, peering into my brother’s back bedroom. Sandy is visiting us, and wishes me a good night. I can conjure his smile, in a faded movie clip – brief and full and dear.

Uncle Sandy was drafted in the Vietnam War in the 1960s. He was a sailor far from home, and the relative safety of his ship was no comfort. Uncle Sandy wanted to be home, coddled by his family as only the baby of the brood can be. So, he transferred to the USS Benewah because it was scheduled to return to the States. Only, when he arrived home for precious leave, he found that the Benewah was due to return to Vietnam. Ironically, his old ship would have come home permanently long before the Benewah did.

Uncle Sandy feared returning to Vietnam, but his fear was like a fine spider web – cloying, but easily cast off. Until the night he played with a Ouija Board.

In the 60s and 70s, the Ouija Board was a popular parlor game. Two people placed their hands on the heart-shaped indicator, and waiting for it to magically glide over the printed alphabet, or numbers, or a simple Yes or No. Theoretically, astral powers were motivated to reach down, and move the indicator, painstakingly spelling out answers to our most important questions. It was a cheap and treasured peek into the future.

What was really going on? One of the participants would become bored when the damned thing didn’t move, and manipulate the pointer to spell out amusing messages – sometimes, presciently (who else but your best girlfriend would know with whom your husband was sleeping?).

Uncle Sandy asked, “Will my girl say yes when I propose?”
The answer: “No”.

Damn it!

“When will I get married?”
Again: “No”.

(Must have been disconcerting.)

“Will I have a good job when I get out of the Navy?”
“Not coming back.”

For the record, Aunt Valeria was on the other side of that indicator, and she:

1. Doted on her baby brother.
2. Would not have wanted to rattle him
3. Was decidedly not known for practical jokes.

“How will things go in Vietnam?”
“Not coming back.”
“What can I do?”

“Will I have children?”

Uncle Sandy went AWOL. For days.

Aunt Valeria finally talked him into returning, for the sake of his future.

Sandy Rivers sailed up-river on the USS Benewah APB-35 in the Phouc Toy Province. On July 19, 1967, while transferring from a patrol boat to the Benewah, he slipped on the ladder and fell into the black water. He was a good swimmer, but the Viet Cong were everywhere, so turning on the lights to find him was out of the question.

They recovered his body in good light.

About ten years ago, I visited the Vietnam War Memorial with my son, and made a pencil-and-paper impression of Uncle Sandy’s name for my father.

He did not want me to see him cry.


Spartacus Jones said...

That's chilling.
Sorry for the loss of your uncle.
Too damn many good men wasted for no good reason.

Here's something I know about war:
Nobody ever goes home.


Lori Skoog said...

Fe...if there ever was a serious award for writing on blogs, you would get the top prize. Would you please start submitting your stuff to magazines????

CoyoteFe said...

Spartacus Jones -

Thank you.

About "nobody ever goes home," I never thought about it that way. Through this war, I have been happy when my someone comes home. I figure they are home "safe", and we can pick up the pieces. But, there are too many pieces ...

CoyoteFe said...

Lori -


Actually, I am working on it for someone else's play. I am hoping it will eventually glow.

rebecca said...

what a very sad story and what a terrible way to die. so heartbreaking.

the vietnam war sparked a lot of controversy and put many on dividing lines. i was still a little too young when it happened, but i remember seeing the harrowing pictures and reading how the vets were not welcomed home in the same manner as vets from former wars had been. this is in itself was tragic enough.

thank you so much for sharing this piece of your history with us.


CoyoteFe said...

Thank you, Rebecca -

With the exception of the character of the welcome given to returning vets, I fear we are making the same mistakes today as before. And, today, our warmth is in the welcome, but it does not extend to care needed for those who come home. Tragic and frustrating. What do we do?